I don't shop at Costco so I was not that familiar with the Cameron Hughes brand. Costco was the first major retailer to carry these wines. I just met Cameron last week at The Tasting Room at City Centre where they were hosting both a wine tasting and a wine dinner featuring his selections. Cameron grew up in California and worked for a short time as a cellar rat before deciding to go into the sales side of the business. His business strategy has been to buy up excess wine from well regarded wine regions and producers who have a surplus. He then bottles it as his own and sells it for a significantly reduced price. The key thing being that he does not disclose his sources only the vineyard location. He buys small high end lots that he numbers rather than names due to the often one-off buying opportunities. Two days after this event, I saw a display of his wine set up at my local Kroger grocery store. His wines are becoming more available as he is now moving over 250,000 gallons of wine a year.Over the course of the evening, I tasted eight of his offerings. My top picks of the night:
- Lot 288 Sauvignon Blanc sourced from Clear Lake in Lake County north of Napa- Served with the salad course at dinner which had cucumber, frisee, watercress, radish, toasted almonds, watermelon and vanilla vinaigrette. The wine had a pronounced melon characteristic that really complemented the salad.
- Lot 272 Tempranillo 2009 from Rioja, Spain ($12)- Cameron called this a modern style of Rioja but I would somewhat disagree with that assessment. I actually felt it was more of a bridge between the modern and traditional styles. It was modern in the fact that it was fruit forward with more fresh red cherry/raspberry flavor than you might find in a traditional style Rioja but it had been aged in American Oak, which is very traditional, rather than French Oak which I think of as part of Rioja's modern style. This imparted toasted coconut, smoke and baking spice nuances to the wine. This was paired with a spice rubbed diver scallop served in a pool of grilled corn veloute which I have to say was ridiculously good. I will admit that when I read this pairing on the menu, I was sceptical about how well it would work. It turned out to be a fantastic match where I made certain to take a sip between each bite so as not to lose any of the magic.
- Lot 335 Oakville Meritage 2010- My favorite wine of the evening. Raspberry/Blackberry, nutmeg, damp earth, soft ripe tannins. Very smooth, balanced and easy to drink. It was served with brisket style short ribs which were a little bit too charred for my tastes.
- Lot 285 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($24)- I had this one at the tasting prior to dinner. Blackberry/Red Currant/Cassis, smooth tannins, nice acidity.